Grave Moss & Stars

Archive for the ‘Pagan Blog Project 2013’ Category

PBP Fridays: K is for Holy Kites

Birds served a variety of roles in Egyptian mythology; the Nile valley was rife with all sizes and shapes of wings. Flocks of migratory birds could lay waste to fields and orchards, consuming the crops, so netting swarms of birds in art or act could be symbolic of ma’at (rightness) conquering isfet (uncreation) or of ancient Egyptians defeating foreign invaders. Depictions of imprisoned enemies at Kom Ombo included captured flocks, and the swallow was a hieroglyph frequently used to write the names of undesirable things.

But Kemetic myths are also populated with solar hawks, maternal vultures, a wise ibis, and a great goose Who brought the world into being. The eternal soul, the ba, is shown as a human-headed bird. And, far from least, is the subject of today’s post: kites and the goddesses Who took on their form, Nebt-het (Nephthys) and Aset (Isis).


Nebt-het (left) and Aset (right)

Red kites, which are my best guess at the particular species of kite that Nebt-het and Aset are depicted as, are medium-sized raptors with forked tails and an amiability to both live prey (from rabbits to earthworms) and carrion. They have a high, thin cry, which relate them neatly to Nebt-het and Aset when They were mourning Wesir (Osiris), the dead god. In searching out Wesir’s body after He was killed, Aset was the one Who sought, and Nebt-het was the one Who found, aloft on swift wings with long-reaching eyes.

So kites became symbols of grief, of loss—and of finding again. Wesir rose up when Nebt-het and Aset recovered His body and restored His limbs, and though He was never “alive” again, not like the rest of the Netjeru, He was not wholly undone and vanquished. Kites, with their shrill calls, took in both living and dead sustenance to survive, and so Nebt-het and Aset are Netjeru with a hand extended towards Their dead lord and the blessed dead that He caretakes… and a hand extended towards the living gods and we living mortals.

Sources:

  • Egyptian Mythology (Geraldine Pinch)
  • Nebt-het: Lady of the House (Tamara Siuda)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first K post was on Khepri, Khepera, Kheperu.

PBP Fridays: J is for Kemetic Jokes

This post will consist largely of modern Kemetic jokes, but for actual, researched, well-written articles on ancient Egyptian humor, check these out:

And now, have some funnies!

Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week! ;)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second J post was on sacred jewelry.

PBP Fridays: J is for Black Jaguar Woman

She was a shapeshifter: sometimes Jaguar Woman, sometimes fully jaguar—sometimes melanistic, sometimes golden and rosetted—usually female, but sometimes male. She smiled at me, indulgent, amused, lazily protective, as I in my youthful blundering looked to her as a guide and teacher. She led me through jungle, through journey, into the Underworld and back out again.

I called her Soul, because there was no better word that fit her.

She was one of my first and only personal allies, and the only who was more than the archetype and epitome of their species. She introduced me to shapeshifting, which was already my nature and then became my skill; she tolerated my inconsistent visits and humored me when I needed the reassurance. Her love was fierce, but she did not hold tightly—she accepted my company when I was there, but did not pull at me when I wasn’t. This is feline nature, I’ve found, and it is reflected in other feline entities I’ve encountered since.

When I broke, she found the pieces and brought them together again in me. I sang her a song for it, and years later, after I had stopped visiting the Otherworld, writing a song from what I imagined as her point of view was the first “real” song I would create, and the one that would break the dam that had kept me from creating my own music.

I imagine she’s still in her jungle, as flawless and richly-textured as she was a decade ago when I last saw her. Though there is no rhyme or litany I could sing her that would reach her without my delivering it in metaphysical person, unlike my Kemetic gods, I still have the urge to lay out offerings of honey and milk and berries in gratitude for all that she taught a much younger me.

Thank you, Soul.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first J post was on journeying .

PBP Fridays: I is for Ihy, The Musician

I am writing this late, but yesterday was III Shomu 12, the day of Ihy’s birth… so it is not inappropriate that I catch up on this entry now. :)

Ihy is a child god, son of Hethert (Hathor) and Heru-wer (Horus the Elder), though He is occasionally described as being the son of other Netjeru. His name has been interpreted as “sistrum player” or “musician,” as well as “calf” (being that Hethert often took the form of a cow)—He is called the Bull of Confusion, the Lord of Hearts. He is the youthful patron or creator of music, the sistrum, and the jubilation that emanated from both sound and instrument. While He is primarily a joyful, musical god, He was also linked to the afterlife as “the lord of bread” and was “in charge of the beer,” a boon both for mortal offerings and the cyclical pacification of His mother in Her name of Sekhmet. He has also been linked, as other child gods were, to the blue lotus that represented renewal and birth and was called “the child who shines in the lotus.”

He was usually depicted nude, with the side-lock denoting youthfulness, often with a finger to His mouth; however, he was not always depicted as child-sized and was occasionally shown as large as adult Netjeru. To the right here, He’s shown wearing a uraeus and holding a sistrum decorated with His mother’s face. In some birth houses, He was equated with the king, and scenes celebrated the conception and birth of the divine child, which identified the king with Ihy and bestowed upon him the powers and protections of the child god Himself.

Spell 334 describes His birth:

My awesomeness precedes me
As Ihy, the Son of Hathor,
I am he who begets a begetting,
I flowed out from between her thighs,
In this my name Jackal of the Light,
I broke forth from the egg…
I escaped in her blood,
I am the Lord of blood. I am a turbulent bull…
I came into being, I crept, I traveled around.
I grew, I became tall like my father

In the Coffin Texts, Ihy’s resemblance to His mother Hethert is described:

My perfume is the incense
which my mother Hathor uses for her censing,
My efflux is the sacred oil
which my mother Hathor uses for her flesh…
My intestines are the beads of her menat
which my mother Hathor places at her throat,
And my hands are her sistrum
which my mother Hathor
Uses for her contentment.

And, for His (one day belated) birthday, a modern offering:

A song for You, O Ihy,
most musical of all Netjeru!
A song for You and a song for me,
that we may sing together!
As You shake the sistrum for Your mother
that She may be made glad,
so I shake the sistrum for You
that You may share in my joy!
A song for us, O Ihy,
to exult and celebrate life!

Sources:

  • Egyptian Mythology (Geraldine Pinch)
  • The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (Richard Wilkinson)
  • The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (George Hart)
  • Hathor Rising (Alison Roberts)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second I post was on isfet.

PBP Fridays: I is for Iah, The Moon

To ancient Egyptians, the deities associated with the sun were usually goddesses, typically playing the role of the protective and vengeful Eye of Ra, and the deities Who were associated with the moon were usually male. Iah, Whose name means “moon,” was not only a lunar god—He was the moon itself, in much the same way that Aten was the sun in the physical-ball-of-boiling-gasses sense. While most of Iah’s attributes were usurped over time by more popular gods like Djehuty (Thoth) and Khonsu, He was originally associated with the symbol of the crescent moon, the ibis, and the falcon. Iah can be shown as the “adult” version of Khonsu, Who is a child god, when Iah wears a full wig instead of Khonsu’s youthful side-lock. In addition to the wig, Iah is depicted with a beard, a tall staff, and a headdress of either the full moon and crescent moon (shown right) or the Atef crown, most commonly worn by Wesir (Osiris), atop the moon symbols; rarely, Iah can also be seen with an ibis head.

While Iah never gained great cult importance or popularity, the moon as the left eye of Heru (Horus) had plenty of mythic significance. In the Contendings of Horus and Set, wherein which the two gods battled for the throne that Wesir (Osiris) had vacated upon His death, Set wounded and/or tore out Heru’s eye. The waxing and waning of the moon reflected its destruction and restoration; that Djehuty often aided Heru in finding or healing His eye only linked Djehuty more strongly with the moon. Lunar eclipses could also reflect tumult among the Netjeru and damage done to Heru’s eye; some myths suggest that Set took the form of a black pig and swallowed the moon whole, only regurgitating it at Djehuty’s intervention. The lunar cycle has also been linked to Wesir’s own destruction and rebirth as the king of the dead, which may tie into why Iah is occasionally depicted with Wesir’s Atef crown.

As a small modern offering:

Hail, gleaming Eye of the moon!
Iah Who shines as the sun in the night,
Whose form is silver and ever-shifting,
I meet Your gaze and admire Your beauty.
Hail Iah, the moon at every shape!
Your face is always turned towards us below
even as You slice into darkness
and then back into purest light.
Hail Iah, Who gives us sight in shadow!
Hail Iah, the falcon’s watchful Eye!

Sources:

  • Egyptian Mythology (Geraldine Pinch)
  • The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (Richard Wilkinson)
  • The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses (George Hart)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first I post was on immanence.

PBP Fridays: H is for Hyena

Face to Face with Juvenile Spotted HyenaThe spotted hyena is very close to my heart and my personal mythos – I can’t believe I haven’t written about them before now. Surpassing the wolves that I love and nearly all of the big cats that I adore, Hyena joins Scorpion, Snake, and Barbary Lion in the cluster of those few deeply impactful creatures that inspire, educate, and elucidate. If ever I refer to the “red hyena,” it is the spotted hyena, not any of its smaller extant cousins or extinct ancestors.

For those unfamiliar with spotted hyenas, or familiar only with some of the persistent untruths about them, I will give you a condensed overview. (Click here if you want to skip past the zoology lesson to where I talk about Hyena in a symbolic and personal sense.)

body

Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are the largest living hyenas, native to Sub-Saharan Africa, weighing 90-150 lbs and standing up to three feet at the shoulder. Females are larger than males and are the dominant sex, and (in)famously have erection-capable pseudo-penises instead of mammal-normative vaginal openings, accompanied by pseudo-scrota. Hyenas are neither felidae or canidae, though they more resemble bearish canids than felines; their shoulders are high, their backs sloped, and their rumps curved instead of squared off. They have medium-length, brushy tails and large, rounded ears, with less of a visible spinal mane than striped and brown hyenas. Spotted hyenas are varying shades of medium grey-brown to golden-tawny with dark or reddish brown spots, a dark tail, and a dark muzzle; they have thick skin that is not easily penetrated by canine bites.

hunting and eating

Hyenas can hunt alone, in small groups, or in large groups, as well as scavenge; they can eat and digest every part of an animal, including bones, hooves, and waste, and have no problem eating a carcass that’s submerged or floating in water. Their usual prey consist of the various ungulate species of the African savanna, such as wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle. Their jaws are stronger than those of the brown bear and generate nearly half again as much force as a leopard’s bite. Their hearts are proportionately large, giving them immense endurance in long hunting chases, and they typically hold large territories in which to wear down fleeing prey. They closely respect territorial boundaries, even to the point of allowing prey to escape if it crosses out of their lands. Hyenas use all of their senses, tracking live prey by sight, hearing, and smell; they find carrion by smell, by watching for descending vultures, or by listening for scavenging opportunities; hyena ears are sensitive enough to hear other predators hunting or feeding up to six miles away. (However, the myth that hyenas scavenge lion kills is not only misleading, but usually happens the other way around. Spotted hyenas and lions directly compete with each other, and while hyenas can occasionally eat side-by-side or drive lions off, they usually just step back and wait for the lions to finish. Hyenas will often steal kills from cheetahs, though, and occasionally from leopards.)

society

Hyena social structure is the most complex of any carnivore, rivaling some primates, but is competitive instead of strictly cooperative. Despite this, they are highly socially intelligent and can problem-solve cooperatively. Hyenas exhibit very detailed social knowledge, able to recognize great-aunts and the reliability of other individuals; their dominance is based not solely on physical force but on networks of allies. Hyena groups are called clans and can include as many as 80 individuals. Clans are matriarchal, and even the lowest-ranking females dominate the highest-ranking males. Clans live in one or more communal dens, which frequently have several entrances; adults usually can’t use all of the den due to their size, as they usually use dens dug by other animals. They have a wide range of social interactions, including greeting each other by licking the other’s genitals; erection is a sign of submission, more common to males than females. The signature hyena giggle is actually a sound usually made in fear, when attacked or chased.

cubs

The mother alone cares for her cubs, with no assistance from the father or other females; hyenas don’t form long-lasting pair-bonds. Females actively prefer younger males as mates, and older females additionally prefer males with whom they have had amicable past relationships; passive males win more females than aggressive ones. Mothers usually give birth to just two cubs, and the rank of those cubs corresponds to the mother’s, as she imparts to them her general androgen levels, which are directly related to her dominance and her rank within the clan. Hyena cubs are the only carnivorous mammals to be born with their eyes open, and they attack each other shortly after birth, frequently killing the weaker sibling, especially in same-sexed litters. Spotted hyena milk is enormously protein- and fat-rich, and cubs will nurse for over a year, though they mature socially and physically with remarkable speed. They are sexually mature at three years and have an average (zoo) lifespan of twelve years. Hyenas have a number of antibodies against deadly diseases, including rabies.

hyenas in myth and art

Hyenas have an generally negative place in the mind of humans, both Western and African… but, nonetheless, they have had a place there since Palaeolithic times. They are depicted in Upper Palaeolithic rock art in France, including the Chauvet Cave, Lascaux, Le Gabillou Cave, and La Madeleine rock shelter. In Africa, the hyena is typically seen as abnormal, dangerous, ugly, greedy, and dirty, as well as often related to witchcraft; Western culture traditionally thought of hyenas as cowardly, unholy, and comically stupid. However, in some East Africa mythology, the hyena is a solar animal that brought the sun to warm the earth. There are multiple myths of were-hyenas, but they do not return to their human selves when killed. Ethiopia has stories of the King of Hyenas, an albino animal with great power. In some African cultures, hyenas are linked to the end of rituals (because they devour corpses) or with liminality (because they’re frequently considered hermaphrodites and thus “in-between” sexes), or with fortune-telling and apotropaic properties. Some hunters treat slain hyenas with the same respect as they would deceased tribal elders to avoid vengeance by hyena spirits.

Much like I did for Harpy Eagle, I’m going to distill some symbolism from all of the awesomeness that is the spotted hyena. As before, all of this is my individual interpretation and is not (to my knowledge) drawn from any other source, let alone any traditional/tribal one. I’m also leaving out some of the most general and obvious bits (like their environment and symbolism related to being a mammal and a carnivore).

  • Hyenas have immensely powerful jaws and can crush, devour, and digest just about anything, including things that other carnivores cannot. [Drawing nourishment and sustenance from anything, without metaphorical indigestion. Sustaining oneself on what others couldn’t access or couldn’t bear.]
  • Hyenas are female-dominant, and the females’ genitals resemble the males’ with a startling degree of accuracy, including function. Typically dominant male displays, such as erections, are actually signs of submission in hyenas (and are no longer only the domain of males). [Balancing a strong feminine with a soft masculine. Gender-bending, both as an individual and as a society.]
  • The most choice male mate is the most passive. [Choosing gentleness and longevity of (prior) relationship over aggression and force.]
  • Hyenas use all of their remarkably keen senses with no particular bias. [Not only the ability to actively intake all sorts of things, but to passively observe with every sense and to use the best sense for the job. Overall: flexibility, diversity.]
  • Hyena cubs are born with their eyes open and mature physically and socially very quickly. [Being precocious, either as a literal child or, more metaphorically, as a “child” in a given situation, field, activity, or group.]
  • Hyenas have large territories and respect their boundaries. [Holding one’s own space, even when it’s not small, and letting others have their own.]
  • Hyenas are unaffected by rabies and certain other deadly diseases. [Being immune to what is normally crippling and fatal.]
  • Hyenas are plentiful in a wide variety of climates and terrains and can live alongside or compete against a staggering number of other species. [In a word or two: survivable, adaptable.]
  • Hyenas both cooperate with and compete against members of their own clan. [Being precariously balanced and actively variable between self-interest/self-gain and group-interest/group-gain.]
  • Hyenas eat the dead, both animal and human. [Being the link between death and life; doing the necessary job to maintain a larger balance, despite the unfortunate reputation that comes with it.]
  • Hyenas are neither felidae nor canidae and have frequently been mistaken for wolves or various hybrids of other carnivores. Even today, many African languages do not distinguish between spotted hyenas, striped hyenas, and brown hyenas. [Being unique; being falsely categorized when the truth of uniqueness is not comprehended or acknowledged.]

hyenas and Set

As an additional note: While some modern Kemetics associate Set (Seth, Sutekh) with hyenas, at least in theory, I must disagree with this concept. Set Himself is the strongest of the Netjeru and is very much masculine, for all that He is effectively bisexual in His mythology; there is nothing to draw ties between Him, a dominant/dominating male god, and the female-dominant spotted hyena whose males are most successful when they are at their most submissive and friendly. There is no solid correlation between a strong man’s bisexuality and the hermaphroditic/gender-bending characteristics of the hyena. While a link may be drawn between Set and hyenas based on shared liminal natures, it is a weak one at best, and I don’t feel that correlation can stand firm beneath the contradiction of more prominent attributes.

the red hyena

For a Water-child, I have a strange predisposition towards red or Fire-related entities, perhaps as a way to balance out my own internal biases; and the red hyena is no exception. I began working with Hyena as an older adolescent and adopted her social behaviors in order to achieve a higher functionality in certain inescapable social situations. (I am innately a solitary hermit, so trying to wrangle a raucous group of teenagers as an otherwise-quiet peer-leader was a challenge. Hyena helped.) Since then, I have balanced my inner tendencies with Hyena’s patterns, and I can measure my success in real-world terms: I am currently managing a department of some fourteen people, all creatives and thus fiercely individualistic and opinionated, and I am doing so with extreme success. Additionally, Hyena’s gender-bending fits well with both my habit of flipping a dichotomy upside-down (which shines most brightly in my fiction) and my own genderfluidity. I am, in fact, so enamored of spotted hyenas that I am retelling a couple of my favorite ancient Egyptian myths through a fictional society of hyena-people, based heavily on real spotted hyena behaviors and facts; that novella is about 60% done and has not ceased to delight me yet.

I end this long and information-heavy entry with this, a gorgeous photo of the red hyena:

Spotted Hyena
Image by Will O’ Wisp on Flickr.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second H post was on Hethert-Nut (which became a permanent page on the site).

PBP Fridays: H is for Harpy Eagles

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing harpy eagles in person for the first time at the Fort Worth Zoo. The walkway is enclosed beneath their habitat, and the male perched on the wire ceiling of the walkway with his meal while the female periodically flew from one side to the other. We could feel the wind off her wings; she was twice his size. On her last pass over our heads, a tiny piece of white down fluttered down through the wire mesh right in front of me, and I captured it carefully in both hands before it hit the ground.

I don’t usually connect strongly or easily with birds, but there was something special about the harpies (and Andean condors, but that’s for another post). My first step, when an animal catches my attention in that particular way, is to do some basic research and see what I can glean from that on a more symbolic/totemic/mythical level. If my interest or gut instinct continues to ring bells, I’ll do more in-depth research and study to continue interpreting science into symbol. (Yes, I am a zoologist-totemist. Best of both worlds!)

Harpies are very large eagles (but not the largest, as they are often described as being); they live in tropical lowland rainforests, and their wingspans are somewhat short for their overall size so they can maneuver in the dense forests. [Being sizable without forsaking agility; navigating a cluttered environment.] Like other eagles, the females are nearly twice the size of the males, but both sexes will take very large prey, up to their own weight, which is a startling feat of strength when we’re talking flying off with a live animal. [Choosing worthy and challenging targets instead of the easiest possible targets; operating at a level respective to one’s own strength and proficiency.]

Apex predators, harpy eagles primarily feed on arboreal mammals like sloths and monkeys, but will also eat other birds, reptiles, larger ungulates (even deer), or (very rarely) livestock. [Being versatile enough to find nourishment in many forms; being capable of seizing a variety of targets successfully.] Harpies have the largest talons of any living eagle, with claws longer than even a grizzly’s at 5.1 inches; their feet are immensely strong and capable of easily suppressing prey. [Extraordinary innate power, which can be used to anchor oneself or to seize and hold a target; ability to overpower and strangle.] Harpies tend to perch-hunt, scanning for prey while perched on boughs between short flights from tree to tree, but also still-hunt, which involves staying in one location and swooping down on prey when it’s spotted. They can also chase flying birds. [Versatility again in methodry; ability to keep moving or to wait motionlessly or to full-fledged chase, depending on the need.]

Harpies tend to be quiet when not attending their nests; they mate for life and raise one eaglet, ignoring their second egg unless the first fails to hatch. [Vocal when at “home” with family; focused on one partner and one offspring alone.] The nest is large, made of sticks, and frequently built in one of the tallest trees of South America, the kapok tree; it can be used for several clutches, which are spaced 2-3 years apart. [Finding safety and home-ness in high places; having a more stationary sense of home.] Both sexes will incubate the egg and bring back food for the other; the eaglet is fed and tended for the first year or more of its life. [Shared responsibilities, despite inequality in size; devotion to offspring past the point of strict necessity.]

Harpies tend to be aggressive and fearless of humans, leading them to be targeted by hunters, even though they pose no actual threat to human life as predators. [Persecution based on appearance instead of action; fearlessness in defending offspring and home.] Threatened primarily by habitat loss, they are anywhere from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened, depending on the area, but overall are classed as Near Threatened globally.

Overall, I’m getting an impression of lessons in strength (without forsaking agility), versatility (in both prey and hunting methods), and fierce devotion to (a small) family. Two particular tidbits that perked my ears were the boldness around humans and the size and strength of harpies’ talons. I am finding myself very interested… which means I get to do more and better research to see what else I can uncover. :D

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first H post was on heka (Egyptian magic).

PBP Fridays: G is for Gaul

I am very much an American born of the melting pot. I’ve got blood from half a dozen different countries, at least. And, as a Caucasian mutt, I don’t really get a cultural heritage. I am way too white to so much as touch the little bit of Cherokee and First Nations (indigenous Canadian) blood in me, and I am way too American to have much to do with my French or Sicilian heritage, which comprises the majority of my European genes. Without ignoring the immense privilege that my normative Caucasian make-up affords me, I find it hard to construct a strong personal link to any “traditional” polytheist or pagan practices or religions; I am too far removed, generationally and genetically. (I mean, I’m certainly not a Kemetic because some part of me is descended from ancient Egypt.)

And yet I am some third or so French, come down from des voyageurs after mixing with the First Nations, and before Canada, there was France… and before France, Gaul. It is the most direct line I can draw if I seek my roots, and even then it is a tenuous trace. However, my love for and study of the French language has strengthened the thin, shaky path back, and my early experiences with Celtic* paganism have enriched the way. *Even if it was Irish Celtic, not mainland-Celtic.

But I have not studied Gaul (or the Gaulish language) in the same way that I have studied ancient Egypt (and hieroglyphs). Pre-Roman Gaul has not gotten as much of my attention as pre-Greek Egypt. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot more historically available on Egypt; in fact, my work as a Kemetic has taught me not just about Kemeticism but how to be a (soft) reconstructionist in the first place. I’ve learned how to interweave history and modernity, academic “facts” and personal gnosis.

And now my eyes are drawn back to Gaul, its tribes and uncertain history, its dead language and its missing pieces, its heroes and its gods. The scent of loam, the feel of bone marrow, the familiarity of the forests. I cannot tell how much of my lingering sensory-rich impressions are based in fact or in myth… but now, I think, I have the ability to learn enough to distinguish one from the other, and treasure them each in their own way. And, however clich√©d it may sound, Gaul sings home to at least some part of me that yearns to answer the call.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second G post was on being a GLBTQ pagan.

PBP Fridays: G is for Grace

Disclaimer: This post is heavy on my personal opinions and interpretations, including some impressions of my spiritual Mother, Nebt-het (Nephthys). Others may have entirely different views of and experiences with Her, and that is a-okay. I speak only for myself.

Every weekday morning, on the drive to work, I say my morning prayers. In that short litany, I thank Nebt-het for Her compassion and grace; by that I mean not only the grace She bestows upon me, but also the grace I enact, which I consider to stem from Her in the same way a child inherits certain characteristics from its parents.

To clarify, the grace of which I speak is not physical coordination and smoothness of motion, though that can indeed play a part. This grace is an elegance of the spirit, a composure of the intangible self. My kind of grace, overlapping with zen and individual sovereignty, states simply that we each are responsible for our own selves, our actions, our reactions, our baggage, and our projections, and that we cannot and should not try to take responsibility for someone else’s stuff. Grace states that someone else’s distress is not about us and should not be taken personally. Grace states that sometimes, shit happens, but we can at least control how we react to the sudden manure in our way. And, of course, grace describes the way one acts and reacts: smoothly, self-controlled, benignly, gently, along the positive-to-neutral spectrum.

Sometimes I get the sense that grace is a lost art, especially among some men. (I really hate generalizing based on sex, but unfortunately, this is experiential and not blindly stereotyped; however, I know it’s not true for everyone.) I find myself wondering how often my own grace gets shrugged off as effeminate, or how often it’s mistaken for deference when it is only courtesy. I wonder if a tactful tongue and a compassionate heart are really heard and felt, or if the gentleness and the subtleties just make it easier for others to override it with noise and force.

Nebt-het, as a goddess who welcomes the newly dead, Who guides them through the Duat, and Who comforts those who mourn the deceased, is very composed and self-contained. She has experienced loss—Her brother Wesir (Osiris) died, the only god to experience death—and so She understands more than most Netjeru what humans feel when other humans die. She has keened Her grief and torn Her hair and stood guard over Her brother’s corpse after seeking it on the wings of a kite, but in the face of others wailing, She is quiet and still. She holds the space and makes it safe for us to scream and sob; in Her arms, we do not fear, and in not fearing, we can express our grief and begin to release it.

When I thank Her for Her grace, I am thanking Her for holding the space—not for me, but for every person who has ever wept, for every person who has been afraid and felt weak or vulnerable—and I am thanking Her for showing me by example how to act with such impeccable grace in service to others. Those who come to me distraught will see my Mother’s child first and foremost, a fallible and oft-emotional human animal second.

If this grace looks like weakness from the outside, I couldn’t care less; it is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and being a conduit for grace has demanded more strength and stability from me than almost anything else. And in that, I am glad to know Nebt-het as my role-model, and I am glad to walk in Her footsteps as best I may.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first G post was on genderqueer and GLBTQ Netjeru.

PBP Fridays: F is for Feeding The Ka

To feed the ka is to nourish one’s spirit, one’s soul. Ancient Egyptians considered the soul to have multiple components; the ka was one of the two most important, as it contained one’s incarnate personality and, after death, would be transformed into one of the blessed dead. The nourishment of the ka in life for many modern Kemetics is just as vital as nourishment of the flesh, and I wanted to share a few things that have been feeding my ka lately.

Feeding my ka is a unique feeling, one not mistakable for “just” happiness or satisfaction; it is marrow-deep and suffuses every part of me with well-being, as though I have feasted on joy and no longer hunger. When I feed my ka, I feel a powerful sense of balance, of groundedness, as though the earth would have to crack before I would lose this fulfilled feeling. It is not something I feel all the time, and I do not seek out ka-feeding activities and situations as often as I would like to… but I realized recently that listening to certain music floods my ka with nourishment like almost no other.

A year or so ago, I discovered The Piano Guys, a cellist and pianist who so loved their music and were so skillful in their passion for the art that their joy was contagious and inspiring. I listened to their Youtube songs on repeat during hard days at work, and their happiness and their music filled my heart when I couldn’t see past the stress. One of my absolute favorites is One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful; if you sample no other piece of their music, at least give this video a watch and a listen.

Another piece of music that uplifts the spirit and fills my heart is Rootless, by SJ Tucker (you can listen to it at that link!). Everything from her voice to the lyrics makes this song deeply impactful and personally meaningful to me (and a whole lot of other pagans, I reckon). Listening to this song alone reminds me of my roots, both spiritual and communal, and honors the hard work that this path sometimes demands.

And lastly, but so far from least, my most staple of spirit-foods is the sky. Stepping outside, breathing, and looking up always stills the frantic pace of the human world, dulls down the sharp edges, and gentles the twinges and aches. The sky is my Mothers, and well before I ever did a thing with Kemeticism, the sky eased my heart.

I hope every one of you has the opportunity to feed your ka regularly; may you never run dry on this strange and wonderful path we choose to walk.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second F post was on feral.

PBP Fridays: F is for Father Gods

As a Shemsu (follower) of Kemetic Orthodoxy, I have undergone the Rite of Parent Divination, a geomantic divination which reveals my divine Parent(s) and Beloved(s). I have two Parents, my Mothers, Nebt-het (Nephthys) and Hethert-Nut; I also have Sekhmet as a pre-divination “surrogate” mother-figure, and I will frequently call Her my mother. Some of my dearest Kemetic siblings, including the wonderful person who introduced me to Kemetic Orthodoxy and my own sister, have a divined Father; in fact, one of my close friends was divined with two, like I have two Mothers.

But I don’t have any deity I unofficially call Father, and I’d like to explore what it’s like to have such a female-centric divine family.

(What do polytheists call the grouping of their deities that they interact with and worship? I want to say “personal pantheon,” but that’s not quite dictionary-accurate. In Kemetic Orthodoxy, it’s our “lineup” or divine family if referring to the Netjeru we were divined with, but I need a term for the Netjeru of my divination plus Sekhmet…)

I have one god consistently in my life, and that is Ma’ahes, the Living Lion; I have called Him brother for nearly as long as I’ve known Him, and He is not paternal in the least with me. Other male Netjeru, all of Whom happen to be my sister’s or friends’ Fathers and Beloveds, will infrequently touch base but aren’t a part of my daily practice so much that we have a strong one-on-one relationship.

So, as things stand, I am a goddess-worshipper. Sekhmet devotee, born of Nebt-het and Hethert-Nut, protected by Serqet. Ma’ahes is so supportive and non-obtrusive, letting me approach Him instead of actively demanding time and attention, that He doesn’t radiate the traditional “lordly” vibes that many male deities do. (Heru-wer, I’m lookin’ at You.) Ma’ahes, the only male Eye of Ra, an executioner personified by the sweltering summer heat… is extremely gentle and patient with me. He is, in fact, as kind as the most compassionate of my goddesses, Hethert-Nut.

This is probably due to my own nature: I am a non-Newtonian creature and will react to blunt force or aggression by steeling myself and raising my defenses, or simply sidestepping and walking away, whereas slower and softer movements are allowed access to my vulnerable insides. In other words, any deity approaching me with any kind of “macho” attitude would not find a berth in my practice. I am mindful, rational, emotional, and compassionate, and I don’t relate well to a lot of posturing or strict hierarchy. (This is also why I don’t deal with many gods of royalty. I respect Them—I just don’t grok Them.)

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t end up with a Father or a kingly god in my divination; it would take a very special sort of god to fill a paternal role without rubbing me the wrong way. Of the hundreds of ancient Egyptian gods, Ptah is one of the few male Netjeru Whose demeanor jives very well with me, and the only Netjeru I could envision having a positive paternal relationship with me. I adore Him and His myths, and the fact that He is Sekhmet’s consort only endears Him further to me. If He were willing, I would happily involve Him in my regular practice and accept that added paternal flavor… but that has yet to happen, mostly through my own inaction.

I’ve wondered if my bias towards goddesses has anything to do with my transition away from Christianity, but I wasn’t brought up so religiously that it left a bruise. Even my human role-models were both strong women and compassionate men, individuals who were solidly good people without being restricted to any extreme of gender stereotype. Being genderfunky myself, I don’t seek out one sex over the other for friendship or company; I tend not to judge at all based on sex or gender, but based on personal characteristics that mesh well with who I am. I find myself very comfortable with many goddesses, but I have not been exclusionary towards gods; it’s been something of an accidental ratio of female-to-male.

So I am a goddesses’ Kemetic, sort of the polytheist version of a ladies’ man, albeit not through any conscious, deliberate choice. Given the wealth of joy and contentment in my spiritual practice, I can’t say I’m complaining—just curious about how the dice fell. My Mothers and my Ladies are beautiful and fierce and fathomless, and I adore Them wholeheartedly… as I do Ma’ahes, as I would any god or goddess Who won my heart.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first F post was on five pillars of Kemetic Orthodoxy, which later became a permanent page.

PBP Fridays: E is for (My Experience of) Empathy

First, let’s get the basics of empathy out of the way. It does have a perfectly mundane meaning:

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself.

In metaphysical circles, empathy’s primary meaning seems to be “the vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” There are plenty of ways to describe how and why this happens, from mingling energy frequencies to insufficient personal shields to psychosomatic tendencies, and I’ve heard theories that range from purely-energetic to purely-imaginative.

Empaths are those who experience empathy to a greater or more intense degree than the norm, and while some of the proposed “whys” of empathy might raise an eyebrow outside of a community heavily fluent in energywork-ese, the fact that some people experience heightened empathy is undeniable. Given that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that observing another’s emotional state can activate the same parts of the brain as seen in the person experiencing the original emotion, the reality of the experience of empathy isn’t up for debate.

So empathy is scientific, psychological, and potentially metaphysical. It may even be a necessary precursor for compassion. That covers the basics, so let’s get into the personal bits…

I have considered myself an empath for roughly as long as I can remember. I am hyper-sensitive to the emotions of others, both those who are emotionally close to me and those who are in physical proximity to me. I’m also very sensitive to the overall state of my environment, which links my experience of empathy to my need for plenty of light and thus SAD (seasonal affective disorder), all of which is probably tied somehow to my synesthesia.

I tend to keep fairly quiet nowadays about my experience of empathy, as the word can bring up some unfortunate New Age connotations and elicit some eye-rolling; if I must, I can phrase it as being good at “reading people” or being extra-insightful. But being an empath is like being a cold-blooded snake; just as a reptile’s internal temperature (and therefore its health) is bound to the temperature of its environment, my internal equilibrium is powerfully affected by my environment and the living beings within it. Empathy isn’t something I can turn off; it’s something I have to constantly work with and around. I have psychological techniques and metaphysical tricks to help keep myself from drowning in the tides, but that doesn’t stop me from bobbing like a buoy. There is no emotional stillness for this empath unless I am wholly alone, and even then I have to shake off the echoes of the day’s influences.

A couple years ago, I stumbled over the phrase “highly sensitive person” (HSP) and was floored to discover that my experience of empathy, as well as my sensitivity to the presence of light in my environment, was actually… a normal, albeit not common, condition. Clinical psychologist Dr. Aron even wrote a book on being HSP:

Highly Sensitive People have an uncommonly sensitive nervous system – a normal occurrence, according to Aron. “About 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.”

While I don’t deny a potential metaphysical component of empathy and high-sensitivity, I have found an immense benefit in learning about the physiological aspects of being an HSP. (Yes, I have the book; no, this is not a paid endorsement.) My existing “dealing with empathy” toolkit has been greatly expanded by learning how to avoid pits of no stimulation and peaks of too much stimulation. There’s a lot to be said for turning a personal vulnerability to a quirk that, in many ways, has turned out to be very beneficial.

After all, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t an empath, a highly-sensitive person. And I kinda like being me. :)

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s second E post was on eating your heart.

PBP Fridays: Enoughness

I had played guitar until my fingertips were purple, and despite all the hesitation and insecurity of a novice musician, I had put an original chord progression to original lyrics for the very first time. It was short, and simple, and I couldn’t play it through smoothly yet, but I had done it.

Nebt-het was there; She had been there the whole time. It was Her song I was putting music to. She was a quiet presence, like twilight-purple incense smoke in velvety shadows, supportive and patient and nonjudgmental.

I put my beloved guitar down, worked the kinks from my fingers, and started a litany of apologies. I was sorry I had to stop; I was sorry it wasn’t as long as a “real” song; I was sorry I couldn’t play it through perfectly…

She stopped me, gently but firmly, and told me in no uncertain terms that It Was Enough. She didn’t mean that I was done practicing, or that the little song would never be changed or improved in the future—She wanted me to know that my efforts, my time, and the music that resulted from my devotion were wholly sufficient. There was no lack in that moment.

It floored me, the concept of enoughness, the idea that I hadn’t in some way failed to do things better or more. My Mother—Who, at the time, had not been divined my parent deity and was simply a Netjeru for Whom I felt an inexplicably strong affection—did not find me or my efforts wanting.

That is still a concept I struggle with, a belief I am poor at integrating. I am very quick to compare myself with others and with some nebulous perfect “maybe” that I expect myself to achieve without fail, and I frequently fall short of the high standards to which I hold myself. The idea that I measure up just fine is a somewhat unfamiliar one—and to hear that from a goddess, Who has known the best that has ever been and Who knows how far little ole me is from that ideal? If She were anyone else, I would not be able to believe Her when She told me that it was enough, that I was enough.

But it’s Nebt-het, and She speaks only rarely to me, and Her few words ring too deep for my flaky self-esteem to ignore.

So I practice enoughness. I keep my high standards in mind, but I try not to writhe too much when I don’t meet them. Nebt-het is a goddess of compassion, and so I learn from Her how to embrace the reality of a thing without denial or rebuke or rosy fantasy. After all, if I strive to extend unconditional compassion to others, I must start with myself.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.

Last year’s first E post was on extinct totems.